- This is one of the most important issues for me in the 2008 election. As I see it, we need to reach three goals: (1) change our auto fleet so that it is no longer dependent on oil as a fuel source; (2) reduce greenhouse gas emissions from our power plants; and (3) make sure that our energy policy isn't written by industry lobbyists, and that it doesn't ignore informed expert opinions. These are all tough goals to reach, and each will require a future President to be both honest and aggressive.
- Dependence on Oil: With respect to the first goal (which is long-term), Obama simply has a better plan. Obama will increase fuel efficiency standards by 4% every year. This is a very important step, and is really integral to reducing our dependence on oil. McCain, on the other hand, only promises to enforce existing fuel economy standards. In fact, he has actively opposed increasing fuel economy standards in the past (in 2003 and 2005). This is simply bad policy. Without updating our fuel economy standards, we'll continue to be the world's largest consumer of oil. McCain's hands-off approach means more fuel-inefficient cars, and more oil consumption for the foreseeable future. This approach simply hasn't worked for the past 20 years. If we keep this hands-off approach up, we'll only get hit harder by future price shocks.
In addition to fuel economy, Obama also supports Amtrak funding and increased public transportation. McCain does not. In fact, he has actively opposed increased public transportation funding, and has attempted for years to dissolve Amtrak.
Both candidates propose tax credits for the purchase of efficient vehicles, but Obama's proposal is better (it's $2,000 more than McCain's, and not as restrictive in where it applies). This is important, because the best end-result we could hope for is plug-in electric vehicles that cost less than traditional gas-powered vehicles. Tax credits are important because they encourage both investment and future purchases.
McCain gets some points for his "$300 Million Prize To Improve Battery Technology For Full Commercial Development Of Plug-In Hybrid And Fully Electric Automobiles," but Obama still has better investments to promote similar technologies and make electric cars commercially available.
In addition to falling short on these important issues, McCain has made a big lie the centerpiece of his energy plan. McCain has repeatedly told the public that drilling in the protected OCS areas would lead to consumers "pay[ing] less" at the pump. It wouldn't, and McCain is lying when he says that it would. In reality, the Department of Energy estimates that OCS drilling in the protected areas would only result in an additional 200,000 barrels of oil per day at peak production (in the year 2030, by their estimates). This, they say, would have an "insignificant" impact on the price of gas. Even the National Petroleum Council (which exists "to represent the views of the oil and natural gas industries") only argues (unrealistically) that we would see an extra 900,000 barrels of oil per day at peak production in the year 2025. When you compare that to a world market that currently consumes 86 million barrels of oil per day today (and will consume much more in 2025 and 2030), that works out - at best - to a savings of pennies per gallon. "Insignificant" is the right word. Yet McCain has consistently pretended that he has the power to reduce the price of gas by tapping these "insignificant" resources. If he wants to argue that this will reduce our trade deficit, that's one thing (though not the most compelling argument). But to lie about its effect on the price of gas is ridiculous.
McCain and his lobbyist advisers have also repeatedly lied about the environmental risks of increased OCS drilling in the protected regions, telling us that "not even Hurricanes Katrina and Rita could cause significant spillage." In reality, they did. 124 offshore spills, resulting in 734,000 gallons of oil, to be specific.
McCain also loses points for his ridiculous "gas tax holiday" proposal (which would starve public transportation of funding and increase our dependence on oil).
Finally, McCain constantly touts nuclear power as something that will lead to a "reduction in our dependence on foreign oil." The problem here is that only 3% of our electricity here in the United States comes from oil. Our dependence upon oil comes pretty much entirely from our auto fleet (as well as from home heating). Yet McCain opposes increases in fuel efficiency standards, and his official spokesman George Allen has already said that "John McCain does not wish to mandate any particular building standards for energy efficient homes or buildings." So unless McCain is proposing nuclear powered cars (he's not), he's simply not being honest about our country's oil use.
- Greenhouse Gas Emissions: With respect to the second goal, both candidates have cap-and-trade policies. However, both are not equal under this category. What I find most telling are the added subsidies and incentives proposed by both candidates. Even though McCain constantly touts himself as the candidate of renewable energy, he has explicitly come out against subsidies and benefits for renewables. Yet he feels perfectly comfortable proposing $2 billion in taxpayer subsidies every year to the coal industry. I don't know how McCain expects wind and solar energy to take over a significant portion of the energy market when he keeps on subsidizing their competition and giving them nothing. Did I mention that McCain's campaign team is packed with energy industry lobbyists?
In addition to poorly allocating government subsidies, McCain has missed key votes that would have extended crucial tax credits to wind and solar energy. He preferred to grandstand over his "drill now, pay less" lies. This is an important point point to keep in mind, because those tax credits were really needed by the wind and solar industry.
But it's not just that McCain was negligent in missing these votes. He has actively opposed tax credits for renewable energy in the past. In 2004, he introduced an amendment that would have eliminated the tax credit entirely. In 2006, he voted against the extension of the tax credits. After that, he just stopped showing up. McCain missed key votes on the tax credits in March 2007, June 2007, December 2007 (this one failed by a single vote), and February 2008 (this one also failed by a single vote). Despite all this, McCain has the nerve to say "I have a long record of that support of alternate energy. … I’ve always been for all of those and I have not missed any crucial vote." This is quite simply a bald-faced lie. There is no kind way of putting this. What McCain said is 100% untrue.
McCain has also opposed renewable energy portfolios at every turn.
Obama, on the other hand, supports tax credits for renewable energy. He also proposes renewable energy portfolios so that we get 10% of our electricity from renewables by 2012 and 25% by 2025. I'm not too happy about Obama's similar support for "clean coal" technology, but it's still far better than McCain's plan.
- Industry Lobbyists: Despite McCain's bald-faced lies that "I’m the only one the special interests don’t give any money to," he has received plenty in contributions from them. Yet, even more important than that, his entire team is run by industry lobbyists. Twenty-two of his advisers and fundraisers have lobbied on behalf of oil companies. Most notably, McCain's senior political adviser Charlie Black has lobbied for Occidental Petroleum, among others. His adviser Nancy Pfotenhauer was the top lobbyist for Koch Industries (which has been responsible for 300 oil spills alone) for years. These are the people who have McCain's ear. These are the people who filter all of McCain's information before he hears it. These are people who have a vested interest in promoting industry-friendly positions to McCain, and these are the people who are crafting McCain's policies and talking points. The fact that he is completely surrounded by them should be troubling to voters who are looking for impartial positions that work in favor of the public interest. Hell, until recently, Charlie Black was conducting his lobbying activities on board the Straight-Talk Express itself (seriously - you can't make this stuff up).